Important early eyewitness description of Siberia and China


Beschreibung der Chinesischen Reise : welche vermittelst einer zaaris. Gesandschaft durch dero Ambassadeur, Herrn Isbrand, Ao. 1693, 94 und 95 von Moscau über Groß-Ustiga... und durch die Mongolische Tartarey verrichtet worden

Publication: Hamburg, Greflinger fur Schiller, 1698.

BRAND, Adam, Beschreibung der Chinesischen Reise : welche vermittelst einer zaaris. Gesandschaft durch dero Ambassadeur, Herrn Isbrand, Ao. 1693, 94 und 95 von Moscau über Groß-Ustiga… und durch die Mongolische Tartarey verrichtet worden

A rich diminutive volume, with much new material on Eastern Russia and China, including Ludolf’s first descriptions of Russia – scarce first edition, the Macclesfield copy.

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Our Notes & References

“The first Western European eyewitness account of this largely unknown and huge area” (Dahlmann), and “an extremely valuable source on the ethnography and geography of Siberia” (Boldyreva).

The fine Macclesfield copy of the first edition, complete with its engraved plates (unlike the British Library copy).

Rare: we could locate only one copy at auction in recent decades (in 2005); OCLC shows only three holdings in the USA (MIT, Yale and University of Minnesota).

Travelling from Moscow to the court of the Kangxi Emperor at Beijing in 1692-95, the Lübeck merchant Adam Brand (d.1713?) was part of Tsar Peter the Great’s Embassy to China, led by Peter’s Danish born chief emissary Eberhard Isbrand Ides (1657-1708). Brand left Russia quickly after the return and published this important travelogue in Hamburg in 1698, outpacing Ides himself, whose work came out in Amsterdam only in 1704. Both works were sensational: in the early years of the Enlightenment, there was little reliable information about Siberia and China, which “must have been a terra incognita, since the representations of Herberstein, Massa, Olearius and even Witsen’s relied entirely on hearsay” (Hundt, quoted by Borm; our translation here and elsewhere).

Brand’s account is “in some respects more detailed, elaborate, and accurate than Ides'” (Kazanin); he “wrote more personally and lively, while Ides’ description is mostly factual and even quite academic, which interrupts the flow of the narrative” (Dahlmann). Both travelogues went through several editions, later incorporating extracts from each other, with long excerpts from Brand’s work also included in numerous 18th-c. travel anthologies. Some bibliographers date Brand’s first edition as Frankfurt, 1697, though it does not seem to exist; they might have been confused with a brief Latin translation of Brand’s travelogue in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s Novissima sinica historia nostri temporis illustratura, published indeed with a 1697 date.

Crossing the vast spaces of the Urals, Siberia, Baikal and Mongolia, the embassy took the far eastern route through Dauriya (modern Buryatia, Zabaikalskii Krai and the Amur Region) and Manchuria to Beijing. “The choice of the way was influenced by the political situation in this part of Asia and the relations between the khanates of Dzungaria and Mongolia at the time of the journey. The Dauriyan-Manchurian route was abandoned by the end of the first quarter of the 18th century and the central (Mongolian) route was favoured, therefore the testimonies of Ides and Brand from the end of the 17th century are particularly precious” (Kazanin).

Brand described the route from the Chinese border to Beijing “in great detail, reporting on the friendliness of the Chinese official who accompanied the embassy, ​​and on the eating habits with “sticks […] at a strange speed”. He was impressed by the Great Wall and especially by the numerous temples and pagodas with the gods who were “ugly and cruel” to look at. He described in detail the diplomatic encounters and meetings with the Chinese officials: “unlike the several earlier ventures over the same route” (Howgego), the embassy was courteously received by the emperor. Brand’s descriptions of etiquette and ceremonial relations at the Qing court and Manchu diplomacy make a “definite contribution to the works on Qing China, […] relatively poor in letters, diaries and travel descriptions. These Russian ambassadorial testimonies are important sources on the history of China under Manchu domination” (Kazanin).

Brand’s travelogue is also regarded as an essential source on the history and ethnography of Siberia, particularly the life of the Komi, Mansi, Khanty, and the Evenks, or a Tungusic people: “​​the first eyewitness accounts of the Tungus and other Siberian indigenous peoples available in European languages were quite sensational” (Borm). Brand and Ides “observed the religious life [of local peoples] very intensely and tried to grasp what was strange about it” (Dahlmann), and they made comparisons of local languages and relationships between different Siberian ethnic groups.

The volume ends with what appears to be Ludolf’s first publication on Russia: an appendix on Russian ‘products’ entitled “Curieuse Beschreibung der natürlichen Dingen Rußlands” [“Curious Description of the Natural Things of Russia”]. The diplomat, scholar and secretary to Prince George of Denmark Heinrich Wilhelm Ludolf (1655-1712) was indeed in Russia around the same time as Brand; upon his return, he published in 1696, shortly before Brand’s work, what is considered to be the first grammar of the Russian vernacular, the famous Grammatica Russica.


Earls of Macclesfield, Shirburn Castle (1860 North Library armorial bookplate with shelfmark to upper pastedown and blindstamp crest to first leaves; not traced in the Sotheby’s Macclesfield sales).

From the estate of Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021), banker of Russian descent, author of books on 20th-c. history. Geoffrey and his wife Fay were noted collectors, especially of Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh and other literary figures. Russia was also an important theme: Geoffrey’s grandparents were interned in a Siberian tsarist prison camp before the October Revolution, and he focused most of his published works on the Cold War.

The Elliotts donated a significant part of their collection to the library of Leeds University in 2002, but kept the Russia-related items, which we consequently acquired.


Cordier BS 2466; Adelung II, 388-90 (Frankfurt, 1697); Cox I, 330; Cat. Russica B-1846.

Boldyreva O.N. “Through the Ural mountains in China (on the basis of “Notes about the Russian embassy in China (1692-1695) by I.Ides and A.Brand)” // International Research Journal, №1 (32), 2015.

Borm, Jan. “The French of the Tundra. Early modern European views of the Tungus in translation”, Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines, #49, 2018.

Duchhardt, Heinz. Russland, der Ferne Osten und die Deutschen, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte Mainz, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009.

Dahlmann, Dittmar. “Das Moskauer Reich und China Die russischen Beziehungen zum »Reich unter dem Himmel« vom 16. Jahrhundert bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts” // Russland, der Ferne Osten und die Deutschen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009.

Kazanin M. I. “Izdaniia zapisok Izbranta Idesa i Adama Branda i materialy o posolstve” // Izbrant Ides i Adam Brand. Zapiski o russkom posolstve v Kitai, Moskva, Glav. Red. Cost. Lit, 1967.

Item number



Physical Description

Duodecimo (14 x 8.5 cm). Title, 2 engraved plates, portrait plate, 215, [16] pp.


Near contemporary English brown calf, covers with black fillets and rollwork, spine with raised bands, gilt fillets and centrepieces, red morocco label lettered in gilt, Ludolff’s section at end with red fore edge.


Skilfully rebacked matching the original spine and retaining the original label, binding otherwise minimally bumped; outer margin of title minimally shaved just touching some letters, lower right corner anciently restored without loss of text, title and last leaf with a bit of foxing, small hole to a leaf (p. 115) affecting a couple of letters, otherwise in appealing condition.

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